Riverton's region title bid comes up short in tough loss to HerrimanFeb 18, 2022 01:50AM ● By Travis Barton
Senior Abigail McDougal celebrates her third three-pointer of the quarter during the hotly contested matchup with Herriman. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
Three weeks ago, the Riverton girls basketball team ground out a gutsy, two-point victory over Herriman on the Mustangs home court.
On Thursday, Feb. 17, it was Herriman’s chance to return the favor.
In front of a raucous crowd, the Mustangs overcame their first half offensive struggles, pouring in 36 second-half points en route to a 56-48 victory at Riverton, earning Herriman a share of the region title.
“It was a mirror image of the game at our place,” said Herriman head coach Kent Smith after the game. “We expected the same thing, their senior night, region title on the line, we knew it was going to be a grind. Our whole game plan was to stay close and then have a shot in the fourth quarter. We played really, really well in the fourth quarter.”
Herriman kept it close, Smith said, due to their defense. Despite being undersized, the Mustangs were able to block driving lanes the Silverwolves were slicing through in the first half when Riverton led most of the way.
Up one heading into the fourth, Herriman elevated its game making key defensive stops, grabbing vital rebounds and scoring at pivotal moments to build momentum.
“We finally had multiple possessions in a row that we scored some, got some separation and held on,” Smith said.
Riverton led for most of the gritty, physical first half, which featured 18 fouls between both teams, and a 24-20 lead at halftime for the Silverwolves.
Herriman senior Lexi Jensen said they were playing individual basketball to start with, not moving the ball around like they planned.
“Once we started following the game plan of swinging the ball, not caring if we scored but the team scores, we started doing a lot better,” Jensen said.
Jensen herself was guilty of a poor first half she said, scoring four points, missing floaters she usually makes.
“I was just kind of in my head,” she said. “In the locker room at halftime, I had to reset and think about what I had to do to help my team win this game.”
With Herriman missing all its three-pointers in the first half, a forte of a team that averages seven three-pointers a game, the Mustangs came out aggressive to start the third quarter scoring three straight layups to take the lead.
“Starting the second half, we made a concerted effort to get to the basket,” Smith said. “We said, ‘OK, it’s going to be one of those games, go get buckets or fouls and we’ll try to outlast them.’”
The third quarter was a back and forth affair with six lead changes. Riverton’s Abigail McDougal hit back-to-back three-pointers putting the Silverwolves up 34-31. Herriman responded with a couple buckets at the basket of its own retaking the lead 35-34. McDougal then hit another shot from beyond the arc putting the Silverwolves up two, only for Herriman’s Mariah Mons—who finished alongside Jensen with a game-high 16 points—to immediately respond with a three-pointer of her own putting the Mustangs up 38-37 to end the quarter.
But it was the final period where Herriman slowly wrested control of the game, with Smith telling his team the words they needed to hear, according to Jensen.
“[He] said, ‘All we have to do is play as a team and win this fourth quarter and you’re region champs,’” she recalled. “I think that just clicked in everyone’s brain and we all want that so we did what we had to do to accomplish that.”
Maybe no one more so than Jensen. She attacked the basket either getting layups or drawing fouls swishing the resulting free throws (she finished six-for-six from the line) knocking in seven of her 16 points in the fourth.
But it wasn’t just her scoring, Jensen was having to box out one of Riverton’s post players after switches, pulled down a big rebound off a missed Riverton free throw (a common thread on the night where the Silverwolves shot 58%) and saved a backcourt violation that led to a switch in the possession arrow.
And with 1:47 left and the Mustangs up 49-43, she got a steal leading to more free throws that would effectively seal the win.
“She just knows how to make winning plays,” Smith said of his star player. “She’s just a tough nosed girl that puts team first. She could get a shot any time she wanted to, she's that good with the ball, but she plays team basketball and she's dang good. I'm lucky to have her.”
Jensen, signed to play at SUU next year, said she “just got locked in” for the crucial quarter.
“I knew what I had to do, I had to take care of the ball and get my teammates open and if it came back I had to make the shots to get us where we needed to be,” she said.
“It was just a mindset of doing the right thing every time I had the ball.”
The region championship, a year after winning its first, is another marker of progress for the Herriman girls basketball program. Over the last four years, not so coincidentally since Smith and Jensen both arrived, the team has won two region championships, six playoff games and were state runners-up last year. Prior to that, the program had never won a region championship, let alone a playoff game.
“I think we've arrived,” Smith said. “We're not better than anybody, but we're as good as anybody. That's how we feel about it. And we're gonna be good for several more years to come.”
Jensen said they owe a lot of that success to their coach.
“He’s made a really positive impact which has affected all the girls,” she said. “Because of that positivity, we bring it into the games and that’s what gets us through those grind-out fourth quarter games. I’m just really happy with where we’ve gotten these past four years. It’s been really cool to see us do things we’ve never done before.”
The final seedings and bracket reveal for the 6A state playoffs is Saturday morning, Feb. 19. Herriman is all but assured a first-round bye and top five seed with playoffs beginning Tuesday, Feb. 22. Jensen feels if they replicate their fourth-quarter performance from Thursday night, they can feel confident.
“We just need to follow the game plan, do those simple things and make the easy plays and I think we'll go far at state,” Jensen said.
As for Riverton, the loss dropped them to 7-3 in region and into third place. But the 17-5 Silverwolves are also probably assured a first-round bye too.
While the loss stings, Riverton had to play most of the game without one of its best players, senior Belle Christensen, due to foul trouble. They also had another senior, Megan Walker, out with an injury, and senior Anna Ross only just returned the day of the game from an upper body injury of her own.
“[Anna] missed the last two weeks and that really threw us a wrench,” said Riverton head coach Jodi Lee. “We’re a different team when she’s on the floor, so I actually feel much better moving into next week than I did a couple days ago. I think we’re in a good place.
“We didn’t make some shots, had some defensive breakdowns, but that’s a very good team we just played.”
In a sport where only five players can take the court at a time, Riverton had a special situation this year with eight seniors. And in a time when kids jump from school to school for more playing time or differences with a coach, Lee was grateful for the unique group of seniors she’s had.
“They’ve been loyal to me, loyal to Riverton, loyal to their team,” she said. “Honestly, they’re a dream to work with, they really are. I am so proud of them, I am heartbroken for them, but so proud of them at the same time.”
The Riverton student section celebrates a three-pointer during the first half against Herriman. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
Lexi Jensen scores one of her six free throws on the night, going 100% from the line. (Travis Barton/City Journals)